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Paris Match   (N° 1440)
December 31, 1976, p 54-56

 

GEORGES SIMENON:

What I think about
'the Killer of the Oise'

An exclusive interview
by Marie-Hélène Normand

original French

An investigation that had lasted close to eight years. A murderer who had killed perhaps eight times, always women and always small brunettes. A suspect, Marcel Barbeault, on whom rested heavy charges. It was the affair of the 'Killer of the Oise.' We submitted this exceptional file to Georges Simenon, who agreed to be interviewed on its contents by our reporter Marie-Hélène Norman. An exceptional criminal, analyzed, explained and judged by an exceptional "police" writer. It is this astonishing literary and psychological confrontation that we offer to our readers.


Georges Simenon, 73, a Belgian living in Switzerland and writing in French,
strongly criticizes our methods of information.

 


What was your reaction when you read in the French press about this affair they're calling 'the Killer of the Oise'?

I was furious when I saw all the newspapers writing, as they do every time there's a brutal murder, the word "killer." Newspapers forget that a man must be considered innocent until he is determined guilty. In England or America, such articles would be impossible, because the papers would risk being sued for incredible sums for damages. You don't have the right to say things like they arrested so-and-so the thief, so-and-so the killer, without any proof.


Do you think that this is about a murderer or a madman?

It is certainly a psychiatric case, and if several psychiatrists concur in this sense, it will never even reach the courts. He is a perfect schizophrenic. This man only occasionally had crises, but each one resulted in a murder, that is known. Therefore, the remainder of the time he was normal, everyone considered him normal, and he lived normally. It is a classic case of schizophrenia, of split personality. I am convinced that he didn't remember anything after having killed.


So in your opinion, he acted in a state of unconsciousness?

Yes, I'm convinced that he was unconscious of what he was doing when he killed. That's why the press, radio and television, don't have the right to use the term "killer." Schizophrenia is an illness, a serious illness. We don't say "this scoundrel" when speaking of someone with cancer, we pity them. Well, I pity the schizophrenic just as much as I pity the cancer patient.


Why do you think he committed all his crimes in the same area?

Nearly all schizophrenics who end up killing have their manias. We saw this with Jack the Ripper, who always operated in the same street. With Landru, it was always in Gambais. The Boston Strangler only murdered nurses or old women, and always in the same places.


So we can draw a parallel with Jack the Ripper or the Boston Strangler?

Of course, these are all the same cases of schizophrenia. And it is treatable – in some cases it can be cured. That is why I'm so shocked that they publish his full name, his address, and other information. Doesn't this man have two children – what will happen to them? In the street, at school, they will hear every day, "He's the killer's son." "She's the killer's daughter." I don't understand how journalists don't have more professionalism, or conscience, because until some new order, this suspect is still a man. In the meantime, there is no formal proof against him.


Why did he keep all those pieces of evidence?

It is a habit that one finds in many schizophrenics, that they keep all the things that they took or stole from their victims. It's part of their split personality, since they have two people in them. One of the two doesn't remember what the other did and doesn't know why he keeps those things. He only knows that he has them.


He also stole some minor objects of no value from his victims. What is the meaning of that?

It's a kind of obsession with symbolic femininity. He was certainly obsessed with women, although he apparently didn't rape them. He felt the need to appropriate small feminine things that belonged to them, but never money. He also undressed his victims. There are two possible explanations. First, a mania. All schizophrenics have them. They have a special way of watching, attacking, killing their victim. Then, sexual obsession. Jack the Ripper only attacked prostitutes. For him, it was feminine undergarments that he stole. It goes far back in the unconscious, corresponding to the form of the obsession. Was he perhaps, from time to time, taking vengeance on his wife?


Could the fact that he lost his mother and brother in a tragic way have some bearing on this?

It is certainly possible, but now we're entering into the domain of supposition. It is difficult to say whatever it is until after a very long and very meticulous examination has been carried out by a good psychiatrist. A deep analysis will be necessary.


How can it be that these secret murderers are good fathers and decent husbands?

Obviously, if they left home foaming at the mouth and jumped on the first woman they saw, they would be in jail in no time. They would never have the chance to commit a series of crimes. But the split personality is precisely the characteristic of schizophrenia. The second personality is that of a good father, good spouse, good employee.


Neighbors describe him as an extremely helpful person.

Exactly. This sort of thing is well known in psychiatry. A good psychiatrist will be able to explain it. I hope that there will be several, because each side is going to have their own psychiatrist, the Public prosecutor's office also, so that there will be a battle of the psychiatrists.


How is it that his family, his neighbors, never suspected anything?

Once he was back in his skin of an honest man, he became once more a good, calm citizen. With no flaws. And when a crisis took him, he didn't know what he was doing; and by the following day he had forgotten it.


They say that he liked animals and always prevented people from mistreating them.

Quite normal also. He likes animals as we all like animals; there's no reason for him to be different from anyone else on this point.


They also say that he read comic strips about sex and violence. Would they have any influence?

If that were the case, it would be necessary to put all newspaper directors and television producers in jail, because all they show is sex and violence. As for the comics, my son is in high school and at least three of his teachers, good teachers, read the comics, and they aren't "killers".
It's all nonsense.
It's nonsense to say that crime has greatly increased. This is not true. Less than a century ago, one didn't even dare to go from here to the chalet "La Loubette" in the evening. In Paris one couldn't go to the theater on foot, because of the "Apaches", later called toughs, then gangsters. There were some on every street corner, and at night a good bourgeois could not go for a walk alone. I've read the entire collection of the Court Gazette of the last century. The 19th century was the golden age of brutality the murder; a lot more than today. In Italy, for example, stage coach attacks were the rule, not the exception.


They say that he often went to cemeteries and that he stole from gravediggers.

It's possible. There would have been something morbid about him, a morbid attraction towards death, everything that had died, everything that touched death.


Is that a kind of obsession with suicide?

No, I don't think so. The instinct in this kind of patient that pushes them toward everything morbid is possibly normal enough... Abnormal, but normal within his abnormality since they are abnormal beings by definition.


What do you call normal?

We need a definition! You can look in all the dictionaries, all the encyclopedias, works of psychiatry, and there is no definition of a normal man. They give you all the possible and conceivable deviations, but the normal man, no one knows precisely what he is. I haven't met one yet.

translated by Stephen Trussel


The two faces of Marcel Barbeault. On the left, the peaceful and respected man : on the day of his wedding, ten years ago, to Josiane Vandeponselle. He led a regular life as a machinist at Saint-Gobain. On the right : the suspect. It took the police 6 years to identify him from among 2,000 photos. He was one of the last ones on the list.


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